making cameras disappear

“How did they do that?” There are so many feats of filmmaking that leave us baffled, but there are many more that are so seamless that they are invisible to the eye. One of which is an age-old technique that has only been refined as modern technologies improve: filming mirror scenes. Reflective surfaces are the enemy of the camera, catching equipment and crew members on the screen when they don’t want to be, and calling attention to the artifice of it all. So how do filmmakers go about making cameras disappear? An astute video essay by YouTuber Paul E.T. dives into the intricacies of the techniques to shoot mirror scenes. Watch it below.

Video Essay: Making Cameras Disappear

Paul E.T. describes how watching a scene from the Netflix crime procedural drama Criminal U.K. in which a camera dolly shot captures both the actors and their reflections on a two-way mirror before circling around to the other side of the glass piqued his curiosity. What techniques did the filmmaking crew use to hide the camera in this shot? The answer is a little complicated. But very fascinating to learn.

Paul E.T. then goes into detail about the different techniques filmmakers have employed over the years mirror shots, citing scenes from Contact, Sucker PunchPeggy Sue Got Married, Force Majeure, and others to examine the use of duplicated sets and compositing. Many writers have gone in-depth on the famous mirror scene in Contact, but Paul E.T. approaches this topic with a cheeky sense of humor and enough new information that it feels innovative and fresh. Specifically, fresh in his journey to find out more about the scene in Criminal U.K. becomes his white whale, as he’s unable to find out more information on a — let’s face it — little-seen show outside of a few YouTube video essayists, apparently. (I’m joking, I’m sure many people have watched Criminal.)

Film video essays are a dime a dozen on YouTube, but we wanted to highlight this one because it’s a smart, well-researched video that has gone viral in recent weeks (it was released over two months ago). And Paul E.T. seems like a channel who could be on the up-and-up, with his fun format and voice. Be sure to check out his other videos too after you watch his take on the (literal) smoke-and-mirrors that filmmakers have used over the years to make cameras disappear from mirror shots.

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